The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


On taking office in May 2010, the Coalition Government placed Afghanistan and Pakistan at the top of its list of foreign policy priorities. As a Committee we chose to do likewise and have been inquiring into this vitally important issue since July 2010.

At the very outset, we wish to pay tribute to all the British personnel, both military and civilian, who are serving in Afghanistan but in particular to those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, and the many more who have sustained life-changing injuries as a result of the conflict there.

We are mindful that some of the conclusions in this Report, because they are critical of Government policy may, by implication, be interpreted as a criticism of the men and women who are applying it in the face of extremely hazardous, hostile and difficult conditions. We wish to place on record that nothing could be further from the truth. They have our full support in tackling the challenges before them and their efforts are rightly described in so many instances as heroic. It is our hope that this Report will be received in the constructively critical manner in which it is intended, and regarded as a contribution to the wider debate which is taking place on how to improve a situation to which there are no easy solutions.

The evidence presented to us suggests that despite the significant resources that have been invested in Afghanistan, and the enduring, wholehearted and admirable commitment and sacrifices of British personnel, the UK has not yet achieved its stated goals. There is also evidence to suggest that the core foreign policy justification for the UK's continued presence in Afghanistan, namely that it is necessary in the interests of UK national security, may have been achieved some time ago, given the apparently limited strength of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although the Government disputes this, we are seriously concerned that this fundamentally important assessment appears to be based on intelligence that has not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

These criticisms do not mean that nothing has been achieved in the 10 years since the US-led intervention. However, at a strategic level, we seriously question whether the efforts expended towards these ends have a direct connection to the UK's core objective, namely the national security of the UK and its allies and we also question whether the ambitious aims of the Government and the international community more widely are achievable.

Ten years after its initial intervention, the international community's involvement in Afghanistan is now being heavily influenced by an ISAF-agreed 2014 deadline, when plans to transfer security and civilian control back to Afghans are due to come into force. Yet, the security rationale behind the UK Government's decision to announce the 2015 deadline for the unconditional withdrawal of UK combat forces remains unclear and there are a number of potential risks inherent in such an approach. We recommend that the Government clarify why the decision was taken and why it was not taken in the National Security Council. However, given that the decision to announce a deadline has now been taken and could not be reversed without causing irreparable damage to the UK's standing at home and abroad, the task must be to ensure that the 2015 deadline has the effect of focusing both Afghan and international minds on the core tasks at hand.

Although the current international emphasis favours intense military pressure aimed at defeating the insurgency, it is clear that military pressure alone is not enough to bring security and stability to Afghanistan. There is a danger that without appropriate political leadership, the current military campaign is in danger of inadvertently de-railing efforts to secure a political solution to what is essentially a political problem. As the dominant international force in Afghanistan, the US's role in this respect is crucial to ensure that the sacrifices made by the West and by Afghans alike are not in vain. We cannot overestimate the importance of direct US support for, and leadership of, a process of political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Indeed, if the US wishes to disengage its forces from Afghanistan, it must first engage more fully, and swiftly, with the process of political reconciliation. Given that the pre-requisites for a successful military campaign are currently lacking, we conclude that the US should not delay its significant involvement in talks with the Taliban leadership because, without the US's support in this respect, there can be no longer-term peace in Afghanistan. As a key ally, the UK has an important role to play in encouraging the US to adopt a more pro-active approach in this respect.

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